A new project by the Topaz organization and Brit Olam will assist female African refugees and migrant workers in giving birth to children in Israel.
Almost 20% of the African refugee, migrant worker, and asylum seeker population in Israel are women, mainly between the ages of 15-35. Many of these women arrive pregnant, some following rape they underwent on the way to Israel, and many others become pregnant in Israel.
At the 'Hagar & Miriam' center (Photo: Alex Livak)
Around 200 babies are born to these women each year, but because the mothers are not eligible for welfare or health services the births are often difficult. The language barrier and distance from home also contribute to the mothers' difficulties.
The project, 'Hagar & Miriam – African Israeli Women in Friendship and Motherhood', aims to support and accompany the women throughout the pregnancy and birth.
V, a 23-year old Eritrean migrant and new mother to a three-month old baby, says she came to Israel illegally.
"It's hard for me to say if all women feel comfortable with the things they teach at 'Hagar & Miriam', but I know that they are important – how to prevent diseases, birth control, hygiene lessons – all of these are things I didn't know about where I came from," she says.
Assistance with birth and beyond (Photo: Alex Livak)
But the activists working for the project stress that 'Hagar & Miriam' is not a medical center. "It is a support and assistance organization for the pregnancy and after it, providing explanations about birth and breastfeeding, explanations about prevention of pregnancy, and empowerment workshops," says Debbie Herdan, an American certified nurse midwife by profession who is responsible for the project's medical side.
Herdan says the organization cooperates with doctors, social workers, and psychologists who donate their time to help the women. "We mainly guide them," she says, and adds that it was founded due to Israel's lack of policy when it comes to illegal migrants and refugees.
A number of celebrities have also contributed to the organization, among them musician Ofer Eini, whose band produced a music video for its benefit.
"We took well-known faces and filmed them in situations from the lives of the refugees, in order to replace the 'faceless' we don't notice on a daily basis," Eini said, adding that all proceeds from the clip will go to 'Hagar & Miriam'.
"I just want to say thanks," says V, who does not know Hebrew and speaks little English. "I can't know where I would be today without 'Hagar & Miriam'. I tell as many women as possible to come to the center because it really helps."
* The 'Hagar and Miriam' organization requires volunteers who can donate some of their time to accompany the women to visits and volunteer for other activities. Baby products, new or used, are also needed. For additional details: Avital Banai, 050-209-9968.